Discovering Moog In Funk and R&B

A Chronological Tour Of Soulful Electronic Music Highlights Covering 40 Years

By Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

Herbie Hancock visiting Bob in Asheville, 2002Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

“Funk not only moves, it can re-move”, George Clinton once said. R&B musicians took it upon themselves to remove the stigma that synthesizers were cold and had no soul by letting the vibes flow through and turning out Moogy jam after another.

Warning - you will not be able to enjoy this exhibit by sitting down.

Stevie Wonder

The transition from virtuoso harmonica player to virtuoso synthesizer player is no big stretch when one considers it’s legendary Stevie Wonder being discussed. A child prodigy, he was originally known as Little Stevie Wonder, and he signed his first recording contract when he was 11. He hit #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with “Fingertips” in 1963 when he was 13, making him the youngest artist in history to land a #1 record.

He’s tied for the lead with the most Grammy Album of the Year Awards with three, and is the only artist to have won the award for three consecutive albums. With over 100 millions records sold, Stevie is firmly cemented as one of the top-selling recording artists of all time.

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"Living For The City"

Released November 1973 by Tamla

#1 Billboard Hot Soul Singles, #8 Billboard Hot 100 Singles

Writer & Producer: Stevie Wonder (née Stevland Hardaway Judkins)

Album version features Stevie playing all the instruments, and was recorded using a Minimoog for the synthesizer bass

Other sounds came from the revered TONTO modular synthesizer system. The massive synthesizer, comprised of myriad Moog modules as well as several other brands, was created and programmed by Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil

Stanley Clarke

Originally from Philadelphia, Clarke was born in 1951. He started out playing accordion, then took up violin, but, as a 12-year-old with large hands and standing over six feet tall, it was an upright bass that would prove to be the perfect fit for his musical endeavors. He studied classical bass for five years, adding bass guitar to his skill set so he could play pop and rock music at parties.

His goal was to be the first black musician in the Philadelphia Orchestra, but that changed when he met jazz keyboard legend Chick Corea. They co-founded the jazz/rock fusion pioneering band Return To Forever in 1973, the same year Corea produced Clarke’s debut solo album. Over the years Clarke has performed with a Who’s Who of artists in multiple genres, including Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones, guitar legend Jeff Beck, and former Police drummer Stewart Copeland.

Stanley Clarke - School Days, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"School Days", featuring George Duke

Released October 1976 by Epic

Writer: Stanley Clarke
Producers: Clarke, Ken Scott

No discussion of synthesizers and funk is complete without including George Duke, perhaps the funkiest of all the great keys men

Keyboards on the album version were handled by David Sancious (Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Sting), with George playing on the closing track

In the accompanying video George is playing his Clavatar, a custom keytar designed by Wayne Yentis, giving him remote control over his Minimoog and an additional synthesizer, with the ability to play one, the other, or both simultaneously

In addition to Stanley Clarke, George performed with a Who’s Who of artists, including saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, drummer Billy Cobham and Frank Zappa

Donna Summer

Summer (née LaDonna Adrian Gaines) was born in Boston in 1948. While she would come to be known as the Queen of Disco, she got her start as lead vocalist for Crow, a psychedelic rock band, prompting her to relocate to New York City. She wound up in Europe after joining a touring version of the hit musical Hair, where she met producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.

After achieving international success, she returned to the US in 1975, and started putting out hit records with "Love To Love You Baby", a #2 smash in early 1976, as her first. She had a total of 42 hit singles in the Billboard Hot 100, with a third of those reaching the Top Ten.

Donna Summer - I Remember Yesterday, 1977, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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" I Feel Love "

Released July 1977 by Casablanca Records

Writers: Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte
Producers: Moroder, Belotte

#9 Billboard Hot Soul Singles , #6 Billboard Hot 100 Singles, #3 Billboard National Disco Action Top 40

One of the cornerstones of the entire Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genre, this track would prove to be a major influence on a variety of artists, including David Bowie, Brian Eno, Human League, and Blondie

A Moog 3P modular synthesizer was used extensively, with the iconic bass line produced by a sequencer, a device which “played” a series of pre-programmed notes

Ironically, Bob Moog lamented the sterility of the machine-generated bass part

This would be a common criticism in the early days of synthesizers in popular music, while numerous artists, especially in the realm of EDM, embraced the precision

Modern music production software provides numerous ways to “humanize” any electronically created part, to any degree desired

Parliament-Funkadelic

Parliament-Funkadelic is a music collective headed up by George Clinton. It is essentially a merging of Clinton’s bands Parliament and Funkadelic, with the former band’s roots going back to The Parliaments, a doo-wop group from the late 1950s. After starting out in New Jersey, Clinton relocated to Detroit, and launched both bands, drawing inspiration from diverse artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Frank Zappa.

Over the years, “Parliament-Funkadelic” has become an umbrella term for various projects by members of the collective, most notably bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, the latter who is featured later in this exhibit. Between 1967 and 1983 Parliament-Funkadelic racked up thirteen Top 10 hits on the R&B charts, including reaching number one six times.

Parliament - Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome, 1977, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"Flashlight"

Released January 1978 by Casablanca Records

Writers: George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell
Producer: Clinton

#1 Billboard Hot Soul Singles, #16 Billboard Hot 100 Singles

The most sampled song from the Parliament-Funkadelic library, with over 60 known uses

One of Bernie Worrell’s legendary performances. The bass part was originally written for, but rejected by, Bootsy Collins

Multiple Minimoogs were connected together to create the synthesized bass sounds on the original recording

Modern synthesizers offer controls (most often wheels to the left of the keyboard) for bending the pitch and adding vibrato, as performers on string and horn instruments do. While these are used subtly in the acoustic realm, Bernie chose to apply these techniques in more extreme ways, adding to the vernacular of the instrument (0:33)

Prince

If there's an artist across all our exhibits that needs no introduction it's Prince Rogers Nelson. His career is legendary, both for its prodigious body of work and the artist’s desire to exert full control over it. While his music output was cut short by his untimely death, his efforts on the business side were successful as his catalog is one of the most effectively guarded in all of pop music.

With his combination of virtuosic multi-instrumentalism and dynamic stage presence, it’s safe to say there will never be another Prince.

Prince - Prince, 1979, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"I Wanna Be Your Lover"

Released August 1979 by Warner Bros. Records

Writer & Producer: Prince

#1 Billboard Hot Soul Singles, #11 Billboard Hot 100 Singles, #2 Billboard Disco Top 100

The "Purple One", as Prince was called, took full advantage of available music technology, including a custom-built equipment case housing a composition system that traveled with him

The Polymoog, visible throughout the accompanying video, makes a prominent appearance (2:33), with the random, burbling effect achieved using the synthesizer’s Sample & Hold function applied to its Voltage Controlled Filters (VCF)

Lipps Inc

The brainchild of Minnesota-born multi-instrumentalist Steven Greenberg, Lipps Inc was assembled after his local disco hit “Rock It” broke the Top 20 on Billboard’s Disco Charts. Asked by his label for a full album, he assembled a band drawn from the area’s studio players. The synthesizer work was performed by Roger Dumas, a stalwart in the Minneapolis musical instrument retail scene.

Most notably, Miss Black Minnesota 1976, Cynthia Johnson, who had previously been the lead singer of Flyte Time, a precursor to the band, The Time, was recruited as lead vocalist.

Lipps Inc - Mouth To Mouth, 1979, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"Funkytown"

Released March 1980 by Casablanca Records

Writer & Producer : Steven Greenberg

#2 Billboard Hot Soul Singles, #1 Billboard Hot 100 Singles, #1 Billboard Disco Top 100

• Synthesizer bass playing the classic disco alternating octaves throughout

Primary synthesizer melody, or “hook” (0:05)

Initial vocal hook performed on a Moog Vocoder (0:12), a device which encoded the signal from a microphone and superimposed it on the signal from a synthesizer

Drum synthesizers, focused on percussive electronic sounds (0:59), had arrived on the scene in 1976

Herbie Hancock

Another member of the modern keyboard pantheon, Herbie Hancock was born in Chicago in 1940. He started playing classical piano, and was considered a child prodigy, performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was 11.

Herbie was greatly influenced by his time playing with jazz trumpet great Miles Davis, who first got Hancock involved with electronic instruments, despite the keyboardist's initial reluctance. Herbie would go on to embrace the iconic bandleader's genre-bending approaches, leading to his presence in this exhibit as well as our Discovering Moog In Jazz/Rock Fusion presentation.

Herbie Hancock - Future Shock, 1983, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"Rockit"

Released June 1983 on Columbia Records

Writers: Michael Beinhorn, Herbie Hancock, Bill Laswell
Producer: Laswell

#1 Billboard Hot Dance Club Play, #6 Billboard Black Singles, #71 Billboard Hot 100 Singles

Heavy rotation on MTV would bring new notoriety to the venerable keyboardist

Michael Beinhorn augmented the drum machine track with percussion synthesizer sounds and a clicking pattern he created using a Minimoog (0:05)

•Melody track created by combining the Minimoog with other classic synthesizers from before the advent of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), with each part being recorded individually. MIDI allows sounds from multiple instruments to be played simultaneously from a single keyboard

The System

Given the backgrounds of members David Frank and Mic Murphy, the impact that The System had on popular music is no big surprise. Frank, born in the Boston area in 1957, was a concert-level pianist at an early age. He won a composition contest as a 5th-grader, and would study at the New England Conservatory of Music as a youth. While there he was exposed to Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking Switched-On Bach, and that would influence his future musical direction.

Murphy, born in Raleigh, NC in 1958, was an early proponent of Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology. He met Frank while serving as road manager for the band Kleeer. Their first single, “You Are In My System”, was an early example of electronica-based pop.

The System - Don't Disturb This Groove, 1987, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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The System - Don't Disturb This Groove

"Don't Disturb This Groove"

Released January 1987 by Atlantic Records

Writers: David Frank, Mic Murphy
Producers: The System (Frank, Murphy)

#1 Billboard Hot Black Singles, #4 Billboard Hot 100 Singles

Classic Minimoog synthesizer bass (0:27)

Artist name derived from their use of the Oberheim System, a drum machine/sequencer/synthesizer setup pre-dating the development of MIDI in 1983

First album recorded with the System plus Minimoog and Memorymoog synthesizers

Despite initial criticism of the machine-like nature of sequenced music, by the mid-‘80s drum machines, often combined in systems with other MIDI devices, had become standard production tools, used to this day across popular music genres

Jane Child

Born in Toronto in 1967, Jane is the daughter of Ricky Hyslop, a famous Canadian classical musician. She dropped out of school at 15 years old to sing and play synthesizer in a touring band, supplementing her touring income with jingle work and stints as church organist and club pianist. She did everything but play electric guitar on her eponymous debut album, a rarity for a new artist signed to a major label.

Jane's success as a white artist on the R&B charts was exceedingly rare in 1990. Her 1993 album, Here Not There, featured a broader range of influences, including grunge and Eastern music. While it did not fare well commercially, it remains a favorite of ours.

Jane Child - Jane Child, 1990, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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"Hey Mr. Jones"

Released February 1990 by Warner Bros. Records

Writer & Producer: Jane Child (née Jane Richmond Hyslop)

From her debut offering, lauded in the press as "the hottest keyboard debut album of the year"

Child burst onto the scene with a unique look and sound, armed with an arsenal of synthesizers

The Minimoog was chosen for the bass on this track, and its presence is immediately felt (0:55), with modulation and downward pitch bending adding interest to the sustained notes

Bernie Worrell

The Wizard Of Woo, née George Bernard Worrell, Jr., was born in 1944 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He’s best known for his work in Parliament-Funkadelic, with whom he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and for his work with the Talking Heads. A decided prodigy, he began formal piano study at the age of three, and wrote a concerto five years later. He studied at the renowned Juilliard School, and received a degree in 1967 from the New England Conservatory of Music.

His use of Minimoog bass on Parliament-Funkadelic’s “Flash Light”, featured earlier in this exhibit, heavily influenced the world of R&B and provided a connection to the burgeoning styles of techno, new wave and new age.

Moog - Original Film Soundtrack, 2004, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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Moog - Original Film Soundtrack

"When Bernie Speaks"

Released 2004 by Universal Music Group

Writers & Producers: Bootsy Collins & Bernie Worrell

A multi-tracked synthesizer tour-de-funk by the inarguable master in the genre, from the “Moog” original film soundtrack

Bernie’s trademark wide pitch bend sweeps and modulations with his Minimoog abound throughout the track (0:22)

Frank McComb

Born in 1970, McComb grew up in Cleveland, learning to play piano in his family church. While he did have some formal music education, he garnered more recognition playing the club circuit with more veteran musicians. Upon graduating high school he joined R&B vocal group The Rude Boys, eventually becoming their musical director. A touring connection led him to relocate to Philadelphia where he would wind up working for songwriting legends Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

He first signed with Motown’s MoJazz label, but left with two album’s of unreleased material after a contract dispute. The track featured here was from that era, and was finally released when McComb gained control of the material in 2006.

Frank McComb - The Truth Vol. 2, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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Frank McComb - The Truth Volume 2

"Intimate Time"

Released 2006 by Malibu Sessions

Writer: Frank McComb
Producer: Steve Harvey

Close your eyes and you might think you’re hearing Stevie Wonder singing, accompanied by a groovy upright bass player

The Minimoog is featured in an imitative role, with a masterful performance (0:04). Only close listening at certain spots confirms it’s a synthesized sound

Earth, Wind & Fire

Founded in Chicago in 1969 by Maurice White, Earth, Wind & Fire is one of the most successful and innovative bands in the R&B realm. They’ve been nominated for 17 Grammys, with six wins. In addition to a star on Hollywood's Walk Of Fame, they’ve been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Rockwalk. With record sales totaling over 90 million units, they are one of the best-selling acts of all time.

Earth, Wind & Fire - Now, Then & Forever, 2013, From the collection of: Bob Moog Foundation / Moogseum
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Earth, Wind & Fire - Now, Then & Forever

"Guiding Lights"

Released September 2013 by Sony Music Distribution

Writers: Philip Bailey, Austin Jacobs, Daniel McClain, Darrin Simpson
Producers: Walt B. & Neal Pogue

A wall of synthesized sound gets things underway, under the deft guidance of EW&F’s Larry Dunn

The Minimoog Voyager, the last synthesizer designed by Bob Moog, jumps out of the sonic melange (0:06). Larry applies tasteful modulations and the sliding-between-the-notes effect known as glide, or portamento

The Voyager reappears with a similar theme later in the track (2:43) and again with a slightly different articulation (3:28)

Even more Voyager, with a more organic, horn-like sound (4:42). At (5:07) Larry increases the setting for the legendary Moog Voltage Controlled Filter (VCF) for a brighter, more electronic texture

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